I think I have lost my ability with words and writing and that’s a horrible feeling. But that doesn’t stop me of telling you all about the wonderful books I do get to read daily. This one is one of those books.
“It’s easy to mistake a woman for a philosophy. The mistake is to be attached to the world at all. It will not thank you for your attachments. Love is the extremely difficult realization…” – that over there is Jerome, the son of Mr and Mrs. Besley. The deep and sensitive boy, rooted into Christianity who falls deeply in love for Mr and Mrs. Kipps daughter, Vee.
The Kipps and the Besleys – two totally different families who somehow find themselves attracted and pulled to each other by some crazy force and the whole story revolves around what happens when their internal, liberal and political conflicts collide together.
Zadie Smith is a natural writer and she writes with an intensity that fulfills your idea of how an artist should be: passionate, attentive, bringing her native enthusiasm to even the smallest of paragraphs. And her power of description is also something that leaves the reader in awe. For example; when she describes the sun: “The sun is a lemon today. It is. It’s like a huge lemon drop.”
Something which jumped out to me in this book is the idea of ‘fittingness” which appears around the middle of the book. Basically that is when you accept your chosen pursuit and your ability to achieve it – no matter how small or insignificant both might be – are matched exactly, are fitting. They argue, that this is when we become truly human, fully ourselves, beautiful. To swim when your body is made for swimming. To kneel when you feel humble. To drink water when you are thirsty. Or – if one wishes to be grand about it – to write the poem that is exactly the fitting receptacle of the feeling or thought you hopped to convey. “Fittingness” is when you become the fitting receptacle and instrument of your talents and beliefs and desires.
Another subject that this book touches on is self-sabotage. How many times do we addict ourselves to a negative thought pattern that it becomes so deeply embedded in our head that we compulsively sabotage all possibilities of personal happiness. We convince ourselves that happiness is not what we deserve and we feel impelled to inflict upon ourselves something which can only be called emotional cruelty.
This book is all about deep topics mixed into a story. You need to read the book though, searching, with an open eye and mind for the revelations you will find inside of it. One of these deep topics is about us – the feminine race – the new female generation and how we aren’t all that different from our mothers and grandmothers. We still feel one thing and end up doing another when the truth is that all we want is just to be wanted. We still continue starving ourselves by reading women’s magazines and chick lit that explicitly hate women, still cut and hurt ourselves in places that we think can’t be seen, fake our orgasms with men we dislike, lie to everyone about everything. We end up being nothing more than just objects of desire instead of desiring objects. We lack being womanish (as the author puts it) – we forget to radiate an essential female nature that comes by being honest, natural, powerful and unmediated, full of genuine desire. That also includes strong, active and well expressed beliefs and has nothing to do with false intellectuality. That’s what a true woman is. Zadie Smith portrays this perfect woman in her character “Kiki Besley” who thinks aloud a very important phrase “When you feel entitled to it, you achieve it!”
This book doesn’t have much of a continuation with the story and its characters. It seems like it just jumps from one thought to the other and so being my review is pretty much the same: skipping from one idea to the other – which brings me to how important and miraculous it is when you communicate what is most intimate to you. And in essence this is what Zadie Smith does in this book – she lets the reader know what she holds deep inside and she does so with great style which is what makes this book as good as it is!!!
here's an old observation that novelists who honed their craft in universities tend to write an awful lot about middle-aged academics contemplating adultery. With that in mind...
At the center of Zadie Smith's On Beauty is Howard Belsey, a middle-aged academic teaching in the humanities at Wellington College, a fictitious liberal arts college on the outskirts of Boston. The nice thing about Boston is that it's got so many well-known academic institutions already that you can give it another whole college without worrying about changing its character. Wellington's got a reputation in this universe as a den of left-leaning academics, and Howard, a British art history professor who married an African-American woman and has three mixed-race children, is everyone's dream caricature of a liberal academician. His archnemesis is Montague Kipps, a Jamaican-born black British academic who is going to be lecturing at Wellington this year. Professor Kipps is a well-known leader in reactionary political circles and a darling of the American right. He has brought his wife Carlene and one of his two children with him. That's where I'll arbitrarily stop, before I get further into the tangled connections between the many major characters.
On Beauty is at its most amusing when accurately (I imagine) satirizing liberal arts academia. It also deals well with issues of cultural identity, particularly circling around Howard's teenage son Levi. Zadie Smith has a great ear for dialogue, particularly characters who are rather less than articulate (Levi) or characters who are ridiculously full of themselves (too many to mention). I also have to applaud Smith's very, very British sense of humor in creating social awkwardness for your dignified characters.
That said, I got a strong impression that the characters, as realistic and entertaining as their dialogue can be, are really just game pieces being moved around the board. You must remember that the universe of On Beauty contains no more than two dozen or so actual people, who bounce off of each other in a slow sort of Brownian motion. Just keep that in mind, and your mind won't be blown by the coincidences that dog this story, particularly the big one in the final section, involving a painting.
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